High percentage of Hoosier children end up in state care

By Abrahm Hurt

INDIANAPOLIS—Children in Indiana end up in out-of-home care at more than twice the rate of children in other states, an independent agency investigating conditions in the state’s Department of Child Services found.

That and an antiquated data system are two of the issues called out by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, a not-for-profit organization hired by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration to review DCS.

Thursday, a day after debriefing Indiana’s Senate and House leaders, Terry Stigdon, new director of DCS, presented those preliminary findings on her department to the media.

Terry Stigdon, director the Department of Child Services, and Sue Steib, independent consultant for the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, answer questions about the initial progress report and evaluation of the Indiana DCS. Photo by Janet Williams, TheStatehouseFile.com

The study, led by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, found that DCS needs an updated automated data system as it noticed a jump in the number of children in out-of-home care.

“They have a system that collects a lot of data, and we believe will be able to produce the data that we need to do this assessment,” said Sue Steib, independent consultant for the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group. “But it’s described to us as just not being as functional as they would like it to be to easily obtain the reports that they need.”

Steib also noted that the rate of children in out-of-home care in Indiana at 13 children per 1,000 is higher than the national average of 5.5 per 1,000.

Holcomb called for a review of the agency last month after former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned, raising concerns about a lack of funding. In her letter of resignation, Bonaventura said she could no longer stand by and watch Hoosier children “being systemically placed at risk, without the ability to help them.”

Holcomb named Stigdon, who has worked at Riley Hospital for Children for nearly 20 years, to replace Bonaventura effective Jan. 22.

The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, a national nonprofit organization that specializes in improving child and family outcomes, will be paid up to $146,630 for its work in Indiana.

While the preliminary report shows places for improvement, the study also found that DCS had strengths in infrastructure to provide clinical and practice support, a skilled administrative and management staff, and a large number of service provider organizations across the state.

As part of its work, CWG will conduct interviews with staff, supervisors and administrators in Marion, Lake, Allen, Vanderburgh and Clark counties. They will also review case files and policies before making their final recommendations to the state in June.

Stigdon said the report will help her transition into her new job and do her own assessment of her department.

“The information gathered along the way will be incredibly helpful to me as we lay out our next steps for success to show real progress for Hoosier kids and their families.”

House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said this issue will probably extend past the legislature’s March 15 deadline.

“The problems facing DCS are so extreme that I would not be surprised if we end up with a complete overhaul of the agency itself,” Goodin said in a statement. “As I have said before, what concerns me is whether the solutions will require legislative remedies.”

The Child Welfare Policy group is expected to provide lawmakers and the public with another update in March.

Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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